Since last year, Cuba has been working closely with the Mongolian government to develop the local pharmaceutical sector. The UB Post sat down with Cuban Ambassador in Mongolia Raul Delgado Concepcion to get better insight into this project while delving into the two country’s bilateral relations and cooperation.
Can you tell us what the Cuban Embassy is currently doing in terms of developing the bilateral relations?
First of all, I’d like to thank the UB Post for coming to the embassy today for this interview. The UB Post is one of the best media, newspaper in the Mongolian society because it’s very real, pragmatic, and has good analyses.
Secondly, Cuba and Mongolia started their diplomatic relations in December 7, 1960. The 60th anniversary of our relations will be in 2020. It’s going to be a big number. From that moment until now, both countries have achieved a great friendship, very close people-to-people relation, and many collaboration in the political and economic areas.
Our job here as an embassy is to maintain, enhance, and reinforce that relations and that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re doing many things to tighten the relations of the two countries.
I noticed that Cuba has been more focused on the pharmaceutical cooperation. Can you give an update on this?
Yes, this is one of the areas that we’ve been working on for the last two years. Cuba is considered by many countries developed in the pharmaceutical industry, one of the first fifth countries specialized in biotechnical production and pharmaceutical products. Saying that, I can tell you that around 80 percent of our consumption of pharmaceutical production is produced in Cuba. We’re leading the research and investigation of many vaccines and medicines against hepatitis, which we have been able to eliminate in Cuba. Our main goal is to bring these good products here to Mongolia.
We have been working very close with the Ministry of Health and pharmaceutical companies in Mongolia, and so far, we have already registered a few products that in the future, will be very useful to patients here. For example, the three main causes of death in Mongolia are cancer, diabetes and coronary diseases. We have been bringing our products and technology here from Cuba to resolve these problems. We have registered a Cuban product called Heberprot-P, which is injected as a treatment for diabetic foot ulcers.
Diabetic patients suffer from ulcers in the feet and usually it is ended with the amputation of the foot. We have been working very hard to teach and prepare doctors in Mongolia to use this product and cure patients suffering from diabetics foot ulcers. In Mongolia, there have been increased cases of diabetes because of the change in people’s eating habit in the last 30 or so years. The people have been getting more diabetic problems such as diabetic foot ulcers.
Heberprot-P is very effective and we hope that it will contribute to reducing cases of amputation in Mongolia. Also, we have vaccines for lung cancer, hepatitis and more. Hepatitis is already eradicated in Cuba, which shows that our products are very good. We’ve been working on these things and we hope to do more.
Are you facing any problems when importing medicines from Cuba to Mongolia?
We’re facing the normal bureaucratic process and let’s say, problems we face in any country. The reality is that the medical sector in Mongolia has been very warm and acknowledging about Cuban products used as medicine. In that sense, we haven’t had any problem with the medical sector. The problems we have are the same as those we face in any other country. It’s a normal problem.
Isn’t it more costly to bring products from Cuba, especially in consideration of the distance between the two countries?
It’s a very good question. We have relations with medical sectors of more than 97 countries. Heberprot-P, for example, has been registered in more than 51 countries. We have been selling this and other products in many countries around the world. Right now, we have medical teams working in 66 countries. More than 40,000 people from the Cuban medical sector are working abroad. More than 22,000 people are working as doctors and physicians in other countries. We have cooperation with neighbors – like Mongolia, China, Laos, Argentina, Iran, Turkey and Qatar. So, we have been able to develop our medical cooperation in many places regardless of the distance. It’s the same with Mongolia.
Mongolia is a very old friend of Cuba. Mongolia has been supporting Cuba in the struggle against the US blockade and in the UN voting at the General Assembly, it supports the solution Cuba presents against that cruel and injustice policy of the USA against Cuba every year for more than 59 years. Saying that, we have been very grateful to bring our products here despite that blockade and very happy to cooperate and help make the health and life of Mongolians better.
Back to the question, the distance is not a problem.
How much is Cuba investing in this project?
Cuba dedicates more than 51 percent of our national budget on two things – education and health. You can imagine how much we have been investing in these sectors over the years. The history of the biotechnology industry in Cuba started in 1980. We were attacked by a long epidemic of dengue, transmitted by a mosquito bite. It was killing almost 102 children that year in Cuba. Back then, Cuba started working to create its own pharmaceutical industry to combat diseases like dengue.
In 1983, for the first time, we started producing interferon. Cuba was one of the first four countries in the world that produced interferon by technology methods. The USA, France, Norway and Cuba were the first four countries.
In 1983, we developed our industry in a very small house to combat that disease. In around 1989, the government invested more than one billion USD to create the biotechnological industry. Right now, it’s a huge industry named, BIOCUBAFARMA composed of 38 big companies in Cuba, and we produce many pharmaceutical products.
What else are you doing to support the pharmaceutical development of Mongolia?
A Mongolian delegation from the National University of Mongolia is currently attending the International Congress “Controlling diabetes and its most severe complications” (the congress took place in Cuba from December 10 to 14). They are going to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology of Cuba. This is very important.
Mongolians and Cubans have different physical characteristics. Have these Cuban products been tested on Mongolians?
Yes, they have been tested and approved by the Registration Office of Mongolia and the Minister of Health. We have never tried to introduce things that haven’t been approved by authorities of the country.
What are the expected results of introducing Cuban medicines in Mongolia?
It’s very difficult to make such estimation. Diabetes is a silent killer. The problem is that the low knowledge of Mongolians, as well as other people, about diabetes. The main complication is the diseases diabetes can bring, not the disease itself.
Usually, diabetes is associated with coronary diseases and liver diseases. There are many patients with diabetes who don’t know that they have diabetes. The thing is that if you can control diabetes, you can avoid many causes of other diseases. Many diabetic patients don’t know their condition, causing them to struggle with high sugar levels and other problems.
With Heberprot-P, we have been able to control one of the complication of diabetic patients, which is the diabetic foot ulcers. Because of the high level of sugar in the blood of diabetic people, when they are wounded and it isn’t healed, it leads to foot ulcers. At the end, doctors have no other choice but to amputate the foot. This product can help avoid many amputations and loss of ability to work.
You mentioned that Cuba is heavily focused on education. What is the embassy doing to support education in Mongolia?
We have been able to educate more than 67,000 people as doctors and specialists for the medical sector.
Right now, we have more than 19,000 foreigners studying medicine in Cuba for free as part of cooperation with other countries. We have 17 Mongolians studying medicine in Cuba as part of our bilateral cooperation. We usually offer scholarships to three Mongolian medical students. So far, 168 Mongolians have graduated in Cuba, mainly majoring in pharmacology dentistry, engineering, and veterinary among many other majors.
Graduates have come back to Mongolia and are working very successfully. Lately, Mongolians have been taking more scholarships to study medicine.
What are the requirements for the students?
This is something you have to ask the Ministry of Education. Because it’s an intergovernmental agreement, we give the scholarship to the ministry, they take exams from the students and select the students to go to Cuba through the scholarship. The ministry organizes everything for the selection of the students.
Which areas will you focus on next?
We’re also working in sports. The Cuban minister of sports visited Mongolia this year and had very good meetings with Mongolian sports agencies. He visited many sports complexes here to try to reinforce the three specialties of Mongolia -- wrestling, judo and boxing – with Cuban coaches and prepare athletes for the upcoming Olympics.
An agreement was made to set Mongolia as a training base for Cuban national wrestling, judo and boxing teams before the Olympics in Japan to train with the Mongolian teams.
We’ve been doing cultural collaboration too. We’ve brought Cuban dancers. The Cuban National Ballet danced here in Mongolia last year and Mongolia’s famous ballet dancer Altankhuyag participated in the International Ballet Festival of Havana, one of the most famous ballet festivals in the world, in 2016 and this year. He was the first Mongolian ballet dancer to participate in that. Like so, we’ve been doing many cultural things.
How many Cubans come to Mongolia a year? How is the tourism cooperation of Mongolia and Cuba?
We have been trying to cooperate in tourism with Mongolia, not by bringing Cubans here but by trying to develop the tourism industry.
From our point of view, this is one of our ways to diversify the Mongolian economy. Mongolia has beautiful landscapes and beautiful places to visit just like Cuba. We have different weather and are very far from each other, but we’re blessed with landscape and places to visit. Mongolia has a warm culture and good and hospitable people like in Cuba. We have many similarities. Therefore, we’ve been trying to create a real cooperation in tourism with Mongolia by trying to train people and develop similar things.
Since we’re very far, we’re not focused on bringing Cubans here or having Mongolians travel to Cuba. However, we want to pass our tourism knowledge to Mongolia so that it can develop a powerful industry like ours. Tourism moves all of the other industries and the whole country. From beds to building to water to energy, tourism needs everything. It’s also clean and doesn’t damage the environment.
The 60th anniversary of the Mongolian and Cuban diplomatic relations is approaching. Have you started preparing for it?
Yes, we will start officially preparing in 2019. It’s a big number – 60 years of relations is a long time. We will do everything we’re planning now like cultural events and food festivals to remind our ties. We will have receptions for the celebration. We’re already preparing for it.